Praying Even When the Door Seems Closed

By John M. Lozano
New Yrok : Paulist (1989). 183 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
1.2 (Fall 1990) : 211-213

The Catholic author has taught theology and forms of prayer for years. He wants to help strugglers who approach prayer as a barred door that they must overcome to get answers, thereby sometimes developing wrong attitudes about God (p. 1). He has sections on such topics as Prayer as Conversation, Prayer and Intimacy, Jesus Prays, Prayer and Faith, Prayer and God's Will, Praying in the Blood of Christ, and Prayer at Work.

Some comments are helpful. Lozano says that Origen took the exhortation to pray without ceasing "as an exhortation to live our whole life and work as an implicit prayer" (pp. 56-57). What he says about meeting God in the rush hour and in ministry, using times of intense activity to be in a spirit of prayer (pp. 58-59) is good. He sees all proper prayer as a response to the Word of God (p. 72). Chapter seven, which deals with mystics, tells experiences of some Catholics in feeling God's presence.

Certain statements are strange and do not communicate well. For example, "a radical interiorization to the point of finding ourselves, beyond ourselves, in the infinite being who creates us" (p. 12). Later Lozano explains this as becoming aware of God's presence (p. 13). It would have been simpler to say this in the first place. Some statements seem unwise or at best need qualifications, e.g. "God is in each person we meet, behind each object we desire, in the depths of every action we perform" (p. 41).

Another puzzler is, "If every neighbor is an image and a son or daughter of God, those who are oppressed, humiliated, wounded, abandoned, hungry, ignorant, subject to constant insecurity, etc., are so in a particular way" (p. 49). Does this agree with Scripture? Again, Lozano writes, "We may not exactly know whether Moses saw a bush that burned without being consumed, because the burning bush may well be a metaphor to indicate religious experience" (p. 50). Where is the contextual indicator that this is a metaphor? Later we read: "No, we don't have to pray expressly for all the needy. Even when we don't invoke God's grace in so many words for those who suffer, we are still interceding for them. All we have to do is stand like beggars before God and look at God with humility, or simply to kneel before the crucified, because praying is always interceding" (p. 52). How can this be true?

On p. 54, the wording seems to make nature itself God. For John of the Cross, "God is the nearby hills, the farthest mountains of the Sierra Nevada, the shady valleys. . . . But God is also the exotic beauty of the distant islands. . . ." This is just a careless use of words, because later Lozano distinguishes God as Creator from His creation (p. 55). Another perplexing statement is, "We pray for those we serve, even when we don't mention them expressly, because we immerse ourselves in God and God enriches us through them" (p. 61).

The author approves the fathers' allegorizing of the Song of Solomon by having the bride represent the Christian in search of the Word, Christ, and marriage with God (pp. 67-68). The writing style often does not stimulate practically, as in Lozano's discussion of his first three degrees of prayer, i.e. reciting formulas learned from others, meditation, and prayer in pouring our affection to God (pp. 73-82).

Some statements have departed from clarity into a dense fog: e.g. if one feels dryness in prayer and cannot meditate or express affections, God is just preparing him for a stage in which He will do the praying. The person will feel invaded by powerful forces from within (pp. 88-89, 101). This is just subjective opinion, and does not offer satisfying help. Many readers will ponder whether to try to figure the chapter out or seek a better book.

Chapter 8 on "The Higher Degrees of Prayer" recommends various techniques. An example is St. Bernard's idea of three degrees (p. 131): kissing Christ's feet (conversion), hands (ascetic progress), and mouth (contemplation). The experiences may help some readers and disturb others. Some of the latter type claimed "visions accompanied by images and . . . conversations with supernatural beings" (p. 142).

Chapter 10 on fullness of love theorizes that prayer can progress to a final degree, a transforming union with God. Gal 2:20 is used for this (p. 161). Is not Gal 2:20 Paul's conversion experience and, in some measure, the experience of every Christian even if he has not experienced the maturity and consistency of life in Christ? Lozano sees God's grace penetrating the believer progressively "until it unites our being with the divine being" (p. 164). Is not every true Christian united with God from the moment of regeneration, with a process of sanctification in God's grace from there on?

The book has its better moments in offering practical help, but is far down the list of books that will help motivate and instruct Christians on effective prayer. It vividly illustrates how little help a work by a non-evangelical can contribute to an evangelical in the realm of practical Christian living.